One day, while drunkenly Skype-ing with my friend Steve W., we gave each other three one-sentence story ideas. So far, I've done two of them. The first one is too filthy to release upon an unsuspecting populace. This was the second. The title is the sentence that Steve gave me to come up with a story for.
Sexual Tension Was Caused by the Robot
By Rimpy Rimpington
Clem and Lurleen met on the line at the Thunderbolt Automobile plant in Muskox, Oklahoma. Clem had worked there already for a few years. When he started, he was partnered with an older black man named Durrell. Clem had never really known a black person before, and at first he was a little nervous. But Durrell was a gracious gentleman of the old school, and he made Clem feel welcomed from day one.
Durrell's job was to screw in the dome light bulb as the cars came down the line, then Clem would snap in the plastic cover. After Clem got proficient at his task, Durell trained him to do the bulbs, as well. They would occasionally switch up to avoid monotony and “line hypnosis” - a common malady amongst production workers.
Clem worked with Durrell for a number of years, and they got along great. They didn't associate after hours, but Clem considered Durrell a good friend, and Durrell took on a sort of paternal role toward his young partner.
Then a bittersweet day came when Durrell became eligible for retirement on Thunderbolt's generous pension program. A party was held at lunch-time on Durrell's last day, with a big cake. Clem had to hold back a tear when he shook hands with Durrell at the end of his last shift.
Durrell said to him, “I don't know who they're going to find to replace me, but you'll be lead man on the team now, Clem. Remember everything I've taught you, and teach your new partner, too.”
Clem promised he would, but he couldn't help swallowing a lump of apprehension, wondering who his new co-worker would be.
The next day, standing uncertainly in his workstation, was a pretty young woman named Lurleen. She seemed friendly and eager to learn. Clem had never worked with a girl before, but he remembered his own experience with Durrell, and did his best to make her feel at home.
Lurleen was a quick study. Pretty soon she had learned both aspects of their work partnership, just like Clem had done with Durrell. She also had an outgoing personality, and a unique sartorial style, within the strict parameters of the factory dress code. About the only personal option one could manage was whether or not one wanted to wear some sort of bandanna under one's hard hat. Clem just wore his hat directly on this short hair, but Lurleen liked to wear a different bandanna every day. Different colors and patterns and designs. She must have had quite a collection of them.
Pretty soon, Lurleen and Clem were getting along famously. They started dating outside of work, and almost before he knew it, he found himself proposing, and Lurleen said yes without hesitation.
A few months later, they were married in the most lavish ceremony the town had ever seen. Practically the whole town and all their co-workers (the two groups were almost completely overlapping) was there. Durrell was there, too, and he smiled proudly at his protege.
They took their annual two week vacation, and spent most of it living large in Branson, Missouri. They then settled into a comfortable existence of work and connubial bliss.
Their happy arrangement was shattered a couple of years later when the factory announced that it was instituting some modernization measures. Seems the time-honored tradition of employing humans to build cars was now passe. In an effort to stay competitive, the company explained, they were going to be more automated. Now robots were going to do a lot of the repetitive tasks that people had been paid to do.
Of course, there was a big uproar. Strikes were threatened. Some workers walked off the job rather than face being replaced by machines. But you can't stop progress, and one day Clem and Lurleen showed up for work as they had done for years to find a weird machine standing in Lurleen's usual spot. It didn't look like any kind of robot that either of them had seen in movies. Instead it looked more like a giant arm bolted to the floor, with some weird attachments for fingers.
Their supervisor came along and explained that this new “robot” was going to do both their jobs – screw in the light bulbs and snap in the cover. Clem and Lurleen demanded to know what was going to become of them. The supe said that, regrettably, Lurleen was being laid off, but they needed Clem, being the more senior employee, to stay and learn how to maintain the robot.
They pleaded. They begged. They even yelled. But in the end, nothing could be done for it. Clem and Lurleen embraced. He promised everything would be okay. Lurleen took off her bandanna and handed it tearfully to Clem, then she went off to collect her severance check.
A technician came to teach Clem his new job. It didn't take long. Mostly he was responsible for keeping his new “partner” supplied with bulbs and covers. The machine was pretty self-contained and didn't need much from Clem, other than materials. Any maintenance and repair issues would be handled by the technicians from the Automaton Robot Company, who were very well-paid to do what they did. Better than Clem, certainly.
So, Clem tried to adjust as well as he could to his new routine. It was boring and lonesome, not having Lurleen to talk to. There wasn't anyone to talk to, for that matter. His workstation was too far from the next one, and the noise of the line prevented conversation over more than a few feet, what with having to wear earplugs. The conversations in the break room didn't offer much distraction, either. Rather than dwell on the disruptions caused in their lives by the changes, most folks preferred to stay quiet.
That night at home wasn't a lot of fun, either. Clem tried to assure Lurleen that she would find other work, but they both knew that was a pipe dream. Thunderbolt was the biggest employer in town, and all the other local businesses that served its employees were already turning away other laid-off workers. Lurleen cried and cried, and Clem couldn't seem to comfort her.
The next day, Lurleen stayed in bed while Clem got up and got ready for work. When he arrived, he was shocked to see that his new robotic co-worker was wearing a blonde wig and Lurleen's old hard hat on what might be considered its head, just behind the weird hand-like attachment. Someone had drawn lips in red lip stick on the machine just below the wig. His co-workers had thought that this attempt at humor might cheer him up. They were wrong. At first Clem was tempted to rip the items down, but he decided against it. He didn't want to hurt anyone's feeling. They meant well, he supposed.
After a moment of watching the robot going through its motions, Clem realized that from a certain angle, and if you kind of squinted, it did sort of look like a human, bending over at the waist as it leaned inside the passing car bodies to do its menial job.
Oh well, Clem thought, at least the hat and wig kind of made it seem a little more life-like. Then he had an idea. He pulled Lurleen's bandanna out of the pocket of his coveralls. He removed the hardhat from the wig, tied the bandanna around it and replaced the hat. That was a little better.
Later that day, a tech from the robot company came by to check on the machines. When he saw the unauthorized items on Clem's robot, he started to open his mouth to protest, but one look from Clem was enough to make him shut it again. He walked away, shaking his head.
As time went by, Clem got used to the tedium of his new position. In fact, it was a relief from his situation at home. Lurleen's severance pay had run out, and now she was collecting unemployment benefits from the state. It was a blow to her pride, and it wasn't great pay. Money was tighter on their reduced income. They had to let go of a few luxuries – like cable TV – that they had enjoyed previously.
Lurleen was moody. Their formerly healthy love life was suffering. More and more often, Lurleen just wasn't in the mood. Clem found himself stopping off at the local water hole on his way home for a few beers, more than he had done when he was single. Lurleen was angry at this extra expense, but Clem felt it was a necessary antidote for the privations he was suffering. They fought often now.
Things went on like this for months. Then one day, Clem was staring morosely at the robot as it went about its monotonous chores. He focused on that pretty bandanna peeking out from under the robot's hard hat. It was now a little dusty from not being changed everyday, but it was still Lurleen's. Maybe it was a combination of loneliness, sexual frustration and hangover, maybe it was line hypnosis, but suddenly Clem was overcome with emotion. He cried, “Oh, Lurleen! I miss you!” and flung himself upon the machine. He wrapped his arms around it and sobbed bitterly. The machine went about its business, completely unmindful of the distraught human clinging to it. No one could hear Clem's cries, and nor did anyone happen to be looking his way.
Lurleen had gotten a call that morning from her cousin Darleen, who worked as the manager at the local Piggly Wiggly. Darleen told her they had an opening for a cashier, and could Lurleen start the next day?
Lurleen had rushed down to the factory to give Clem the good news, and take him out for lunch. And what did she find? Her husband making out with a robot dressed up to look like her!
She ran up behind Clem and smacked his hard hat off his head. A badly startled Clem turned around to find his wife glaring at him. With tear-stained eyes and a red face, he blurted out, “Lurleen! This isn't what it looks like!”
Lurleen screamed, “So this is why you seem so happy to go off to work each day! You pervert! You couldn't face your unemployed human wife, so you take up with this metal monstrosity! I hope you'll be very happy together!”
She then pulled off her wedding ring and hurled it at Clem. It sailed past him and landed inside the “elbow” of the inhuman marriage wrecker. Lurleen turned and stormed off. Clem tried to follow her, but the drama at his workstation had finally attracted the attention of his supervisor, who came over to demand an explanation.
Just then there was a horrendous screeching sound from the robot. The ring had apparently found its way into its deepest works. Smoke began to pour out of the machine, and it began to whirl about on its base, smashing car bodies and flinging light bulbs and plastic covers everywhere. The hard hat flew off and hit the supervisor in the head, knocking him unconscious. The wig and bandanna became entangled in the works of the line, which ground to a halt.
The whole line was shut down for a couple of days for repairs. Clem was fired, despite his protestations of innocence. The company had been willing to overlook the dressing up of the robot, but they drew the line at employees groping the machines in the course of their duties.
Lurleen moved out and roomed with Darleen. Clem couldn't find work anywhere, once his story got told around. He had to move out of the area, and eventually found work on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico. He sends Durrell a birthday card every year, but doesn't include a a return address.
The robot was repaired, but oddly enough, the ring that caused the malfunction was never found. The lipstick was scrubbed off as best it could but, but a faint trace remained for the rest of its days, which were long indeed. Some of Clem's former co-workers swear that they can see a smile in that ghostly lipstick that wasn't there when they originally applied it. The less superstitious say it's just a result of the scrubbing, but the older workers just shake their heads and give that workstation a wide berth when they pass.